The Boggart – aka Tomte or Kobold

Tomte, by John Bauer

Some of you may recall reading about a boggart in the Harry Potter books. Better still, you may have read the book The Boggart by Susan Cooper.

In British folklore, a boggart was a house spirit, a creature that lived in a family’s home and, if treated nicely, might help out with chores. They might live in the closet under the staircase (shades of young Harry Potter himself), or perhaps out in a cozy corner of the barn with the animals, and were seldom seen.

In Germany, a similar creature was called a kobold. In Sweden, the little fellow was known as a tomte.

When in a helpful mood, the boggart might pitch in to milk the cows, churn the butter, feed the cattle, harness the horses, stack the grain in the field, etc. If cranky, though, especially due to insult or disrespect from the family, it might spook the cattle, turn loose the horses, curdle the cream, or play tricks like tying the tails of two cows together.

It also liked to pull the sheets off your bed in the middle of the night.

According to one description of an Irish boggart, the small fellow was about six inches in height, a red nightcap on his head, wore a leather apron, sported blue stockings, and smoked a tiny pipe. His face was “like a withered winter apple.”

There’s a nice tale of a boggart that was especially fond of pranks, and pestered the family so much that they decided to move from their cottage. They quietly loaded all their goods on a cart. As they were leaving, hoping to sneak away unnoticed, a neighbor passed by, and asked where they were going. The family looked back at the cottage and whispered that they were moving. To their surprise, the boggart poked his head out of the butter-churn strapped to the top of the pile on the cart. “Yep, we’re moving!” he called out. When the family realized the boggart was planning to go with them, they decided it was pointless to move, and unloaded the cart and decided to stay put.

The best thing about living with a boggart: if anything was accidentally knocked over or broken, you could blame it on the boggart.

The Boggart, by Susan CooperFor a great read, try Susan Cooper’s The Boggart:

“Sometimes extremely funny, sometimes wildly scary, and always totally absorbing, this remarkable story [is] brilliantly imagined and beautifully written. An outstanding achievement, The Boggart will work its special magic on all who read it.”

“Extremely funny, sometimes scary” –  sounds like the perfect spooky book.


The Canterville Ghost

The Otis Twins Pester the Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost is a wonderful example of the humorous ghost story. Written by Dublin-born author and satirist Oscar Wilde and first published in 1887, it’s an entertaining parody of the spooky story.

Summary: Traditional English Spook Meets Progressive American Family

The story begins when American Minister to England, Hiram B. Otis, and his family move into Canterville Chase, a grand old mansion, despite warnings the house is haunted. Mr. Otis doubts it, but figures he can buy the place, ghost and all, at a bargain price. The family includes Mr. and Mrs. Otis, their 15-year-old daughter Virginia, rambunctious twin boys, and older son Washington.

Indeed, after the family moves, they see bloodstains reappear on the carpet after being washed, and they witness other strange apparitions. But the Otis family just doesn’t find these things all that spooky. When the resident ghost, a theatrical 300-year-old fellow named Simon, tries to scare the family in a diligently traditional manner, Mr. Otis just responds with practical solutions, offering stain-removers, lubricants and other products to fix the problems of blood-stains, squeaky chains, etc.

Meanwhile, the rascally young twins set out to make things miserable for the poor ghost, laying trip wires, assaulting him with pea shooters, setting up butter slides and traps.

The Otis Twins Pester the Canterville Ghost
The bratty American twins of the Otis family lay a trap for the venerable British ghost of Canterville, in Oscar Wilde’s classic ghost story (1909 illustration by Wallace Goldsmith).

Here, for instance, in comparison to the scene in Charles Dicken’s 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol, in which ghost Jacob Marley scrapes his way down the hall to the quaking Ebenezer Scrooge’s bedroom, dragging his ghastly clanking chains . . . the Canterville ghost tries to pull off the same, with inferior results.

At eleven o’clock the family retired, and by half-past all the lights were out. Some time after, Mr. Otis was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside his room. It sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming nearer every moment. He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at the time. It was exactly one o’clock.

He was quite calm, and felt his pulse, which was not at all feverish. The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door.

Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.

‘My dear sir,’ said Mr. Otis, ‘I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines.

‘I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more should you require it.’

With these words the United States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door, retired to rest.

For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor, he fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly green light.

It’s a fun-to-read spooky tale. There’s a lovely little edition available from Candlewick Press, and The Canterville Ghost can also be found online (e.g., an illustrated version at Project Gutenberg).

Edgar Allan Poe and “The Raven

Edgar Allan Poe and The Raven

The year 2009 was the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe.

Mr. Poe was a master of the bone-chilling literary spooky story. And he could create a disturbing sense of unease, growing slowly in intensity, without resorting to monsters, zombies, werewolves, or vampires. Instead, he often just used a slightly mysterious thing.

Like a big black bird, discovered tapping at your window pane.

“The Raven” (1845)
Once upon a midnight dreary,
while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious
volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping,
suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered,
“tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”

Nothing more? Are you sure?

This great poem oozes with a creepy, dark mood, as the narrator, sitting alone by the glowing embers of a dying fire, brooding over the death of a loved one . . . hears the sound . . . of gentle rapping.

And it’s a lot of fun to read out loud.

We recommend checking out this lovely version of “The Raven” poem from the TeachersFirst website, with nice lettering, highlighted words, and definitions of the many strange words . . . it’s a delight to explore it in this form.